Koko, the famous female gorilla, recently died at the age of 46. She became famous for being able to speak. More than famous – Koko became an international celebrity. Movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, William Shatner, and Robin Williams vied to be photographed with her. Rock stars like Sting sang her praises. Professors and politicians pirouetted with Koko in front of news cameras. Papers like the Washington Post regularly ran features on the gorilla who was also, more than once, the cover story for National Geographic. She starred in TV shows and documentaries. All because…well, because she could speak (via sign language), right?
Koko’s interface with the world was psychologist Francine Patterson who devoted more than 40 of her 71 years to the gorilla with whom she lived in a remote, guarded location in the Santa Cruz mountains of Northern California. Patterson tells us that she had conversations with Koko about death, about the meaning of life, and about the gorilla’s fervent desire to become a mother.